The Canadians kept it simple, spending $7.5 million (U.S.)
to string fiber to carry telephone, cable television and video-text—a primitive information system that accessed data stored
on mainframe computers at hundreds of bits per second. The
data center was a trailer crammed with equipment parked in
back of the Elie telephone office. The
system had no studio for local programs,
and outside of the videotex, it offered
nothing an average suburbanite would
not have taken for granted.
But it was a wonder in Elie, where
residents had been sharing party phone
lines among up to 10 families, and
depending on tall antennas to pull in
four snowy broadcast television channels
from Winnipeg. It was a population in
desperate need of better communications. They were delighted with private
phone lines and a few American television channels. Children used the videotex system to play video games. A wheat
farmer who cultivated more than three
square miles used it to check the weather
and prices for grain and hogs. Yet, like
Hi-OVIS, Elie was ahead of its time,
and it shut down a few years later because it was too expensive.
A larger-scale test in the French resort city of Biarritz suffered
the same fate.
Legacies of Hi-OVIS
The Japan Key Technology Center tried to follow up on
Hi-OVIS with a project called Advanced Hi-OVIS or IBIS
(for Interactive Business Information System). The Japanese
government had created the center in 1985 to sustain the basic
research that had been conducted by Nippon Telegraph and
Telephone before its privatization that year. They put the center under the joint management of MITI and MPT, making
it the logical organization to build on the legacy of Hi-OVIS,
but this time they considered the economics.
Gone was the local programming, but the video on demand
remained, with programs stored on laser disc as well as tape.
The system also retained video cameras in homes, but for use
in video conferences and videophones, not for local programs.
Digital data were added at rates to 19. 2 kilobits per second,
state-of-the-art for dial-up modems, and companies were
hooked into the system to provide information services. Future
plans included transmitting high-definition television.
Sumitomo Electric, which had supplied fiber hardware for
Hi-OVIS, developed a new generation of technology for IBIS.
They retained the switched star structure, but chose 50-µm
core graded-index fibers to carry signals. Downstream data
were transmitted at 143 Mbit/s using 1. 3 µm LEDs, which
could span up to 3 km. Upstream voice, video and data were
transmitted by an 0.85-µm diode laser that was wavelength-
division multiplexed through the same fiber. The system began
operating in Osaka with 155 subscribers in 1988.
Jeff Hecht ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a science and technology writer
based in Auburndale, Mass., U.S.A. Member
[ References and Resources ]
>> T. Nakahara et al. “An Optical Fiber Video System,” IEEE Transactions on Communications COM- 26 7, 955-61, July 1978.
>> J. Yudeman et al. Teletext and Videotex in the United States,
McGraw Hill, N. Y., 1982.
>> W.H. Dutton et al., eds. Wired Cities: Shaping the Future of Communications, G.K. Hall and Co., Boston, 1987.
>> New Media Development Association. A summary version of the
Comprehensive Report on Hi-OVIS Project: Jul’78 to Mar’86,
NMDA, Tokyo, 1988.
>> S. Takeuchi. “Optical Fiber Video Interactive System for IBIS,”
Proceedings, IEEE Region 10 Conference on Computer and Communication Systems, September 1990, Hong Kong.